The division president was very angry.
He was angry that the facility communication manager had included his employees in a communication assessment without consulting him.
He was angry that employees (about 60 people in five focus groups) were "negative" about his quarterly all-hands meetings. Employees thought those sessions could be a lot more effective: more candid, more specific, more participative.
And he was angry at me because my firm conducted the assessment and wrote the report. He was so angry, in fact, that he was showing all the signs of preparing to shoot the messenger.
I had been summoned to an urgent meeting with the division president and some of his staff to explain (i.e., defend) our findings. The intention was to browbeat me into "admitting" that the feedback wasn't true. Only trouble was, it was true: we reported exactly what those employees said. They liked the notion of the all-hands meetings, but they knew the meetings could be more dynamic and more meaningful. And, like employees everywhere, they had tangible suggestions--ideas that I thought were very helpful.
It was a shame that the division president was too angry to listen to these helpful suggestions. In fact, he was ready to cancel future all-hands events. He had invested a lot of time and energy into those sessions, he said, and if employees didn't appreciate them, why should he continue?
At our meeting, I didn't say much. The division president was demonstrating very clearly that he wouldn't listen to anything that could be construed as negative. "Constructive criticism" did not appear to be a term he was familiar with.
As the president glowered, I thought about the trouble with feedback. It's risky. You have to be open to the notion that people will have viewpoints that may be critical, messy, irrational, demanding, unappreciative and, very possibly, quite brilliant. This honesty may make you uncomfortable. It may make you mad. You may want to question it. You may even want to quit.
What happens next is key. Do you get over yourself (and your ego), settle down and listen to what these folks have to say? Or, like the division president, do you shut down, become spiteful, and punish the people who honestly shared their perspectives?
The truth can make you strong. It can help you succeed. It can even set you free. But only if you actually listen.